AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Les Otten has fired the first major salvo of the primary campaign, with two weeks of television advertising coupled with a direct mailing to GOP voters. Many political observers say it’s a smart move for someone relatively unknown in a large field of candidates for next June’s primary.
“I am surprised that someone is running ads now,” Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine said. “Most people are not thinking at all about politics right now.”
But, he said, none of the candidates that have announced they are running for governor are very well-known and the ads will boost Otten’s name recognition in a crowded field. Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel said the ad effort may be of marginal help.
“I suppose those in the ski industry know who Les Otten is, but most others don’t,” he said. “If you have a brief flurry of ads now that I assume will go off before the holidays, they may have some impact, but it’s not going to be a great impact.”
Maisel said the ad campaign may also “scare off” some other candidates by sending the message that Otten is willing to spend the money it takes to win the primary election.
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, agreed and said he was not surprised Otten decided to launch TV ads early.
“After all, he has as much money as Croesus,” he said. “This will help build his name recognition, and he needs to do that in this race.”
Otten has been a successful businessman, who once owned ski resorts in Maine and other states, was a part owner of the Boston Red Sox and now owns part of an energy company in the state. While he acknowledges his wealth, he says he does not have the incredible wealth of Croesus, legendary King of Lydia who first minted coins of pure gold and was said to have a throne made of gold.
“My resources enable me, and the donations I have received enable me to get my message out,” Otten said. “I am 60 years old and I have no other job aspirations. I intend to serve the people of Maine and create jobs by bringing real-world experience to Augusta.”
He said the thrust of the ads are that he has had experience creating jobs in the private sector, and intends to use that to improve Maine’s economy. He said he has to start now to reach voters so he can not only win the primary, but also win the fall election.
“I am in this to win,” he said.
Melcher said there could be some backlash from voters who will be upset with political ads on the air this early in the campaign and during the holiday season.
“People get a little cranky at how early Christmas ads start airing,” he said. Melcher added that some voters think campaigns go on way too long. But, he said, there are some campaigns that seem to be going on all the time, such as campaigns for the presidency.
Other candidates in the race have done some advertising, but on a much smaller scale with some print advertising for specific events and Bruce Poliquin ran some radio ads endorsing the TABOR 2 referendum last month that voters rejected.
University of Southern Maine political science professor Richard Maiman said the early campaign ads are “not a bad move” that may help Otten with party activists that are still undecided in the race and will hold caucuses in a few months. He said focusing the ads on jobs could help shape the debate in the campaign.
“From a cold political viewpoint, what’s the downside of running ads now,” he said. “I don’t see one.”